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Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda faces graft charge

DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladesh court told former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia on Monday it would start trial proceedings against her on a corruption charge filed last year by the army-backed interim government then in power, court officials said.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia speaks during a meeting in Dhaka July 18, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj/Files

“We accept the charge and will start trial proceedings on Oct. 25 next,” a court official quoted session judge A.N.M. Bashirullah as telling Khaleda, who heads the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), as she appeared before him to hear the graft charge.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed the case accusing Khaleda, her elder son and political heir Tareque Rahman and five others of embezzling 21 million taka ($304,350) when she was in power between 2001 and 2006.

Thousands of Khaleda followers and BNP activists thronged outside the court and jostled with police escorting her to the hearing, witnesses said.

Tareque was represented at the hearing by his lawyers as he is in London for medical treatment.

The ACC filed a formal charge against them last month, seven months after an elected government headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assumed office in January.

But the Supreme Court acquitted Khaleda in another corruption case involving a foreign oil exploration firm in July while proceedings in another graft case were suspended. All these cases were filed by the previous interim government.

Hasina and Khaleda, along with some 200 key political figures, were arrested by the interim authority that took charge in January 2007 following deadly political violence.

The two women have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Independent watchdog groups say corruption has been endemic in Bangladesh and is an obstacle to aid and investment.